Famous Songs With a Harmonica

By Melissa Cooper
A man plays the harmonica while walking in the city.

Being a small and portable instrument that can be used in a variety of genres, it is no wonder that the harmonica is a popular accent to many styles of music, particularly for solo artists already playing a foundation instrument like guitar or piano. Adding a brace-like holder around the neck allows a hands-free approach to the mouth harp. For some artists, it is their main focus and they create amazing songs with unforgettable harmonica melodies.

"Like a Rolling Stone"

Bob Dylan's harmonica on display at an auction.

You can turn to several songs in Bob Dylan’s catalog and find a prominent harmonica solo that both stands on its own and intertwines itself into the story. Bob Dylan’s skills on the harmonica aren’t the most technically sound, but they inject meaning into each of his songs such as “Like a Rolling Stone,” where the harmonica has a voice that accompanies the feeling of the loneliness of his character “With no direction home/Like a complete unknown/Like a rolling stone.”

"Piano Man"

Billy Joel at the piano on stage at a jazz festival in New Orleans.

Inspired by Bob Dylan's use of a harmonica neck brace to play guitar at the same time, Billy Joel chose to do the same while playing piano. According to Joel, "Piano Man" is one of his sillier songs and he was a bit embarrassed when it became a hit for him, but he features harmonica prominently and to great effect, creating the feeling of a bar sing-along.

"Isn't She Lovely"

Stevie Wonder playing a variety of instruments in concert.

Composed to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Stevie Wonder improvised the harmonica part in "Isn't She Lovely," and the sense of joy in his improvisation shines through. Wonder is another artist whose songs often include harmonica, and he has accompanied Chaka Khan, Elton John and The Eurythmics using his distinctive harmonica playing style to add flair to the artists' hit songs.

"Roadhouse Blues"

A photograph of The Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, on an alter.

The Doors used the harmonica to help create a gritty, bluesy hit that is a favorite at bars. The harmonica and piano work together in Roadhouse Blues to conjure an image of a light layer of sawdust on hardwood floors while people sway along to the slow-driving rhythm.

"Run-Around"

John Popper plays the harmonica while holding the microphone.

Blues Traveler gained popularity in the early 1990s as college favorites. Lead singer John Popper's harmonica skills are truly stellar, which is clear on "Run-Around," a track that is about Popper's insecurities and disappointing experiences with women. The uplifting, bumblebee-like harmonica lines reveals an underlying resilience and merriment.

About the Author

Melissa Cooper writes on topics including education, fitness and business, using her Bahelor of Arts in English at Ohio State University. An effective researcher in her expert subjects, Cooper has produced a newsletter and an internal office website that focused on fitness and well-being.